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  • Writer's pictureFrank Landrian

From ‘holiday’ to ‘accountability’: Mayor suspends budget director after gas-tax lapse

Douglas Hanks

July 19, 2023

After touting a coming “gas tax holiday” for residents at a press conference this week, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava on Tuesday said she was suspending her budget director for causing it by failing to realize a fuel tax was up for a 30-year renewal in 2023.

In a memo to county commissioners, Levine Cava said David Clodfelter would serve a 10-day suspension without pay over Miami-Dade having to stop charging the six-cent tax for the final four months of the year after missing a July 1 state deadline to reauthorize it. The pause on collections is forecast to cost the 2024 county budget about $17 million.

“Although there was no bad intent on the part of any of our County staff, it’s important that there be accountability for the lapse in collection,” Levine Cava wrote. “As a result, I will be suspending Budget Director David Clodfelter for ten days without pay. He is ultimately responsible for the team that processes the gas tax and whose responsibility it was to initiate the process for timely renewal.”

Clodfelter, Levine Cava’s budget director since she took office in late 2020, earns about $10,800 every 10 working days in his $280,000-a-year job, according to county records.

He stood with Levine Cava at Monday’s press conference unveiling the administration’s $11.7 billion budget proposal for 2024. There, Levine Cava touted two budget components providing “relief” to taxpayers.

The first was a 1% reduction in the countywide property-tax rate, which typically stays flat in county budgets. While lower, the rate would still produce higher tax bills for most residents because Florida law allows assessed values to climb 3% in 2023 based on inflation.

“We’re offering relief, also, in the form of a four-month gas-tax holiday, from September to January,” she said. “Through the holiday season, residents will pay six cents less per gallon at the pump in Miami-Dade.”

Clodfelter had no comment on the mayor’s memo Wednesday.

It was Clodfelter’s name on the June 14 letter from Florida’s Department of Revenue about renewal of the tax, which has been in place since 1983. The letter said Miami-Dade had until July 1 to notify the state that the tax had been renewed pending its Aug. 31 expiration.

That didn’t leave enough time under the county’s charter to schedule two commission votes on the required renewal legislation, given the mandated notice period and a 10-day delay in the ordinance taking effect to allow for a mayoral veto, which can’t be waived. On Tuesday, commissioners gave preliminary approval for the extension until 2053, with the final vote coming later in the year.

At her press conference, Levine Cava justified the “holiday” description by saying the administration considered increasing other taxes to address the lost revenue. Asked to elaborate, Clodfelter later pointed to a different local two-cent gas tax that could be increased to five cents per gallon with a commission vote. Levine Cava did not propose the increase.

The budget uses a $54 million pool of remaining federal COVID dollars to cover the $17.3 million cost of the missing four months of revenue from the six-cent gas tax. That includes the 30% share that would go to municipalities under existing agreements, so city budgets wont’ be affected. The money can be spent on transportation and transit needs.

By diverting the COVID dollars to cover the gas tax, the Levine Cava administration tied up $17 million that could be used elsewhere. The COVID budget shows zero funding in 2024 for dozens of non-profits and government needs that were funded with the federal money in 2023.

Those include after-school programs, homeless programs, traffic-light upgrades and acquiring environmentally sensitive lands for preservation.

Douglas Hanks

July 19, 2023

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